Ottawa police chief temporarily bans certain no-knock dynamic entries

Ottawa's police chief is temporarily banning the use of a controversial police practice that sees officers burst into a home in hopes of ensuring a person doesn't destroy evidence.  

Anthony Aust, 23, died in October 2019 after police conducted no-knock raid at his home

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly has pressed pause on the use of certain no-knock dynamic home entries by officers. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa's police chief is temporarily banning the use of a controversial police practice that sees officers burst into a home in hopes of ensuring a person doesn't destroy evidence. 

Dynamic entry is a no-knock raid in which police officers, often in full combat gear, use a battering ram to enter a home without announcement. In Ottawa, the entry is carried out by tactical officers, and often involves the use of flashbangs, or stun grenades.

"The use of dynamic entries is one of the most high-risk and low-frequent activities by any police service in Canada," said Chief Peter Sloly.

"But it does present a risk to the public and it does present a risk to our members."

However, an investigation by The Fifth Estate found the Ottawa Police Service was using dynamic entry regularly in search warrants for drugs, firearms and child pornography.

The investigation also found that police forces across Canada were conducting no-knock entries hundreds of times a year. 

Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is the first force in Canada to formally announce a suspension of no-knock raids to conduct search warrants. It's not immediately known if other forces will follow.

Following the death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky last March, several U.S. states banned the controversial practice. The. U.S. Congress is also considering a bill to ban no-knocks.

Akwesasne police participate in a training exercise for no-knock entries, which involve the use of stun grenades, in January. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

Sloly said he's pressing pause on the tactic following a year-long review that began in February 2020 in response to a local court ruling. In that ruling, an Ontario Superior Court judge found Ottawa police were showing a "casual disregard" for the charter in their use of no-knock entries. Justice Sally Gomery said the practice, which should only be used in extreme cases, was being used too frequently.

"I've made a decision in the abundance of caution to pause the use of dynamic entries in cases that are solely regarding the securing of disposable evidence."

10 recommendations

The number of no-knock dynamic entries has decreased from 82 in 2018 to 59 last year, he said.

About 75 to 80 per cent were used for the purpose of preserving evidence, Acting Deputy Chief Mark Ford told the Ottawa Police Services Board Monday afternoon. 

Sloly said dynamic entries are used in a narrow set of circumstances and should not affect officers' ability to investigate cases, however, they will continue to be allowed in situations to preserve evidence as long as either the chief or a designate — which can include a platoon commander, inspector, or senior officer —  approves one.

They will also continue to be used in other instances, such as for warrantless entries for an active emergency situation, such as an active shooter.

The review resulted in 10 preliminary recommendations Sloly outlined at the board meeting. They include expanding the neighbourhood policing strategy, assessing the police informant program, and collecting data — on demographics, trend analysis, and annual audits — for dynamic entries going forward.

Man died during dynamic entry

The tactic does not need to be signed off on by a judge. It can also go very wrong. 

In a high-profile case in Ottawa, Anthony Aust, 23, died after falling out of a 12-floor bedroom window in October 2020. SWAT officers had conducted a dynamic entry into his home, looking for a 9-mm handgun and evidence of drug trafficking. 

The province's police watchdog is investigating his death.

Late last year, the City of Ottawa also settled a lawsuit involving Peter Schneider. His home was raided based on bad information from a police informant.

With files from the CBC's Judy Trinh

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